Just prior to the sending of today's newsletter, I was saddened to hear that Giancarlo Guidi, founder and principle of Ser Jacopo, passed last Monday, August 6th, succumbing to stomach cancer. He had continued to work, making pipes and overseeing the Ser Jacopo workshop, until June. Guidi was a guiding light for the Italian pipe world. It is difficult to imagine Italian pipes today without his artistic influence. He co-founded Mastro de Paja in 1972, leaving a decade later to found Ser Jacopo in 1982. The group of brands that we now think of as belonging to the 'Pesaro School' of pipe making are all made by men who, at one time or another, worked for and were influenced by Giancarlo's passion. Arguably to a greater degree than any other, Giancarlo Guidi's artistic vision has defined and driven Italian artisanal pipe making for the past forty years.
I only had one opportunity to meet Giancarlo, in Pesaro, in 2010. The man loved pipes like few others and, unsurprisingly, was a devoted art student. We overcame considerable communication barriers and enjoyed a remarkably thorough 'discussion', mostly consisting of pointing and facial expressions, about Ser Jacopo pipes and their design language. I had long admired Giancarlo Guidi and that time with him was a real highlight for me.
Having guided Ser Jacopo for three decades, Giancarlo spent much time recently to ensure a smooth transition and to map a plan for Ser Jacopo going forward into the future. Ser Jacopo lost its founder, sadly, but it, and the Pesaro School at large, will not have lost his vision.
The birth of the "Pesaro" school was something of a renaissance for Italian pipe design, born, so the story goes, out of reaction to the rise of the Danish pipe during the 1960s, and the contrasting decline of attention to the Italian tradition. And just as with the works of the historical Renaissance period, that birth was affected by the meeting of well-heeled, established patrons with a skilled and dedicated artisan. More specifically, when a group of successful, patriotically-minded Italian pipemen, represented by one Terenzio Cecchini, found a younger countryman, student of fine arts, and autodidactic pipemaker all rolled into one, in the form of Giancarlo Guidi.
From this meeting was born Mastro de Paja, and from Mastro de Paja Giancarlo both developed and honed his own pipemaking skills and approach to design, and in turn helped shape those of the numerous Italian artisans whom he worked with. From here what we now call the Pesaro style would spread, as these various artisans set out independently to create such marques of their own as L'Anatra, Il Ceppo, and Don Carlos. And today Giancarlo himself is of course best known by the unmistakable briars of his own workshop - Ser Jacopo.
Just as the boy is said to be the father of the man, the nature of the seed from which the Pesaro school has grown is evident to this day in the fruits it bears - Giancarlo's original background was in art, and artful flourish, posture, and form remains the very essence of the "Pesaro look". And you'd be hard-pressed to find somewhere where this was more self-evident than in Ser Jacopo's own Picta lines, wherein Giancarlo has interpreted the designs of pipes found the artworks of some of his favorite masters.
The Picta series-of-series is an expansive and still-expanding project, to this date covering designs from the works of Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Rene' Magritte, and, most recently, Joan Miro. And it has no doubt been a challenging, albeit also satisfying, one as well. After all, some of these works, Magritte's in particular, contain some of the most undoubtedly iconic images of a pipe. As much as the aforementioned's Treachery of Images may rebuke us, when we see it we think, "That is what a pipe should look like." Then there's also the challenge of wrestling with some of the master artist's own styles.
As you can see, they range from the clearly rendered:
Head of a Peasant with Pipe, Vincent Van Gogh
...to the abstractly obscured:
Catalan Peasant with a Guitar, Joan Miro
But no matter the challenges created by the whims of those artist-artisans who came before him, Giancarlo has nonetheless seen to it that interpretations pleasing to the pipeman are produced:
Rene’ Magritte may indeed have never made an actual pipe, but, fortunately for us, Giancarlo Guidi certainly does.
I've long been a fan of Giancarlo Guidi's work. Much like Carlo Scotti in Northern Italy, or Sixten Ivarsson in Denmark, Guidi first created a new idea, a new approach to pipe making, and then taught others. Is that not the mark of a true master? So, having wound our way over the Apennines from Florence (by way of Arezzo) to Pesaro, I was seriously excited to meet this man I'd thought and written ( this from 2004 being an example) so much about.
Giancarlo Guidi cofounded Mastro de Paja in 1972. In 1983, he left Mastro de Paja to found Ser Jacopo. Giancarlo's work demonstrates an
inventive genius that I can't help but admire: whether it's the Picta series--pipe shapes based upon works by
Van Gogh, Magritte and Picasso--or his standard line of neoclassical shapes, there's an aesthetic inventiveness
and sophistication that Giancarlo brings to pipe making that really sets his work apart.
We arrived mid-afternoon following our beautiful, but at times harrowing, drive over small mountain roads. During the summer, the craftsmen at Ser Jacopo work half-days, leaving around 2pm as the summer heat on the Adriatic coast becomes unbearable.
Giancarlo, and a translator who also serves as the secretary for the business that now owns Ser Jacopo, awaited our arrival. There's an eeriness to any factory or place of business or workshop when it's not operating. It's that way when I'm at the office on Sundays. It's that way in the Stanwell factory when I've seen it on a weekend. Without the rhythm of people at work, something is definitely missing.
Still, this did mean that we were free to ask questions, to roam the long, fairly narrow, workshop, without being in anyone's way. Four people work in this space, including Giancarlo, making roughly 3,500 pipes each year, about a third of which come to the United States (of which about 175 each year end up, well, here). Giancarlo's station is immediately obvious; it's the one with piles of books, pipe stummels, pipe experiments and other detritus. The other stations are those of an efficient factory; Giancarlo's is a space an artist might keep.
Excited, full of energy, Giancarlo set about
showing us around. From time to time, the translator broke in, but Giancarlo and I were doing a pretty good job
of communicating. I don't speak any Italian and he doesn't speak any English, but we're both perfectly fluent in pipe-lish, so we did pretty well. He showed us the sandblasting. First they tumble blast a bunch of pipes to get a sense of the grain pattern, then focus blast each piece, blending techniques that are traditionally Italian (the tumbling) with those that Danish, American and English pipe makers use (a nozzle with a focused stream of media on a particular bowl). Next, we played with standard pipe making bits, from his gigantic lathe (they have a few, but one is truly huge, see below) to the piles of shaped stummels, waiting to have stems added and to be sanded, stained and finished.
Much like the Castello factory, Ser Jacopo's workshop feels like something in between the small artisanal pipe making workshops I've seen all over the world and a larger factory like Stanwell. There are elements of both present: the regularity and efficiency of a factory, combined with the tools of a small workshop. But it's more than that. Pipe factories are inhabited by people who, well, work at factories. They do care about what they do, but it's a job. In a small workshop, it's a passion, the craft is a way of life. That's the difference, really: the smaller multi-person workshops, like Castello or Ser Jacopo, feel like passionate people work there, people who do this because they love it, or need to create to satisfy some inner urge.
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was
simply watching the way Giancarlo went from being fairly passive to thoroughly animated whenever he spoke about new shape ideas. To say that he thinks deeply about shape and form is almost trite. He pores through massive table-top art books for ideas. He recently expanded the Van Gogh Picta line when he discovered some more paintings that feature pipes. He's working on a new Picta line based on yet another artist. When he's not doing that, he's dreaming up other crazy ideas, like his recent two person pipe.
From there, we moved to the office, to look through a whole bunch of Ser Jacopo pipes. It's such a treat to be able to select pipes at the factory and to have such a multitude to choose from that one cannot really help but pick a few dozen extra. The new Ebony and Ivory pipes were of particular note, pairing a jet black stain with a white acrylic stem, and they'll be filtering their way onto the website over the coming weeks and months.
Having selected a few dozen pipes and chatted over coffee for a little longer, we headed back on the road, wishing we could have spent more time, both at the Ser Jacopo workshop and in Pesaro, a beautiful small city on the Adriatic. We never actually managed to see the Adriatic, deciding that we better head northwards towards Balogna, in search of a good meal and a good night's sleep before we saw two pipe makers the following day, in small towns near Bologna and Ferrara. And I'll be writing about those over the next few days...
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